In the world of business all everyone talks about is how to achieve a better work life balance, which tells us one thing at least: it's an endless challenge, which it is, especially for entrepreneurs, but at the same time I don't believe that it's impossible to achieve. In fact, I can prove it.
At the age of 21, I started my first business, GVI whilst living on an island off the coast of Honduras. The idea was to bring together my love of travelling and conservation by setting up projects across the globe, which allowed young people to explore new places whilst positively impacting communities. In those early stages, I actually led a diving project myself. Jump forward six years and I was stuck behind my desk managing spreadsheets, living in a tiny house in English suburbia, rarely exercising and drinking too much. The company was doing well and growing fast, but I was stagnating. It certainly wasn't how I envisioned my life developing and it scared me. My wife was pregnant too, which added to the pressure as I desperately wanted to be a good father, with time and energy to play.
It was around this time I went to the doctor for a health check up and he warned me that if I continued living like this I'd be dead by the age of 50. I suppose I could have started running, gone on a diet, bought a stand-up desk, but at the time, I felt that I needed a drastic change that would completely turn my life inside out and force me to prioritise work life balance in the long term. So with a four year old month baby, we sold our house and moved to Costa Rica. I was lured by the promise of better weather and surfing, a sport which I'd always wanted to try, not just for fitness, but because of the kind of lifestyle it promotes. People say (me now included) that being in the waves is almost meditative, it makes you forget everything else.
Now, I'm not suggesting moving to another country in a time of personal crisis is a quick fix, Costa Rica certainly came with its challenges (bad wifi connection and major earthquakes amongst many others), but it certainly shifted my perspectives and changed the way I do business. I learnt to love being fit, not just for my body, but for the space it gives my mind to refocus and the positive impact on my mood. We now live in Cape Town, and I still surf most mornings or go to the gym. I started to pay attention to what I was eating, avoiding sugar and caffeine, drinking virtually no alcohol and looking for healthier ways to boost my energy levels - again this is something I try to stick to, at least during the week. I began to practise meditation, which is still probably the most important part of my daily schedule. I cannot emphasise enough the benefits of giving yourself a break during the day, to remember to breathe and to just slow down for even ten minutes. As an entrepreneur, you are continually bombarded with demands and decisions, and it can become overwhelming if you don't allow yourself some distance. I also had to perfect the art of delegation whilst living in Cape Town as I wasn't in the office to micromanage or complete certain tasks. I can tell you now, delegation is key to regaining balance and improving productivity. Your business will never grow if you're doing it all alone and you definitely won't have any free time. Share responsibility with employees, freelancers, your wife, your friend, whoever to help you prioritise your workload. It will ensure you stay engaged with your vision too, rather than being sidetracked by time consuming administrative tasks.
Most importantly, I learnt that balance is essential to success and I don't mean that from a purely professional point of view - although there's no doubt that the happier you are, the better you work - but to me success is having time to play with my children, spend time with my friends, do the things I love and go into the office feeling excited about my day. In my view, work life balance is a choice, you have to fully commit and keep practising until you find what works for you, but in my experience, it's well worth the effort.
Richard Walton is the Founder of AVirtual, a company that provides virtual assistants to small business, entrepreneurs and start-ups. He is regularly featured in the press talking about topics such as work life balance, productivity and how to work with a virtual assistant.